A dream two years in the making is becoming a reality at the Eastern Westmoreland Career and Technology Center.
On Nov. 21, students and faculty gathered for a dedication ceremony for the school’s new STEM Outdoor Learning Center. Sponsored by grants from the state Department of Environmental Protection, SkillsUSA, Lowes, The Sprout Fund and West Penn Power, the center includes an open-air classroom and windmill, which will be used to teach science, technology, engineering and mathematics concepts.
“Through the hard work and dedication of our staff and students, partnered with our generous sponsors, we’ve created a window into our future, helping our students understand sustainable energy and the importance of protecting our natural resources,” said administrative director Marie Bowers.
The educational offerings of the learning center span numerous subjects.
“Not only will they be studying the weather, wind, solar energy, but a wide variety of projects have been given life just because of the existence of the learning center,” Bowers said. “For example, projects such as the ongoing documentary of the center, the development of new and innovative learning curricula for all ages, the research and study of agriculture and horticulture via our rain garden, the media-ready articles that will be generated by our students keeping the community informed of the research and developments unfolding at the learning center, and our computer engineering students developing software that will connect the solar array panels, the weather station and windmill to our website so the community and our students will have access to this information as it is being gathered, and this is just the beginning.”
Future additions to the center include a pond, green roof, rain garden and amphitheater seating, Bowers said.
State Sen. Kim Ward, R-Hempfield, who served as a guest speaker, found the center very impressive.
“It just goes to show, it goes further to show that here, our educational community, our school districts, we are on the cusp, on the cutting edge, of making sure that we can meet the needs out in industry as it continues to change,” Ward said.
West Penn Power’s Sustainable Energy Fund provided $25,000 for the center, helping to fund items like the solar array, clean energy lab, weather station and materials to integrate solar panels, Bowers said.
Joel Morrison, director of the fund, said the organization was delighted to support the promotion of renewable energy in the region through the school’s grant request.“We were very happy that it had an educational component to it, and we were very happy that what we were using were local manufactured materials,” he said.
James Kregiel of SkillsUSA, which provided $20,000 for the outdoor classroom’s timber frame, touted the center’s potential to show students the practical applications of their trades.
“The knowledge you’re going to get now will stay with you for your entire life,” he said.
The Sprout Fund, which is based in Pittsburgh, provided $15,000 for the structure of the classroom, its foundation and furniture.
“Projects like this are really exciting for us to support,” said Senior Program Officer for Catalytic Funding Mac Howison. “It’s also very exciting for us to be able to look outside of the urban core of Pittsburgh to find out what’s happening in surrounding counties of southwestern Pennsylvania.”
The state Department of Environmental Protection provided a grant for the Windstax windmill.
“Frankly, you students are in such a unique position in our history to really become the leaders in alternative energy,” said Windstax founder Ron Gdovic.
“You are the first generation who are now experiencing firsthand the kind of inevitable reality that carbon fuel is eventually going to run out,” he said.
Edward Johnstonbaugh from the Penn State University Extension said he has been a believer in renewable energy for nearly 30 years. When he started his career, there was a lot of hope that renewable energy would take hold in the market. Now is a “terrific time” to be students at the career and technology center, he said.
“The facility we have out here today is a demonstration of the fact that the time is now, the time has arrived,” he said.
Principal Todd Weimer thanked students for their work on the center, recognizing the construction trades, masonry and cabinetmaking programs. He said students in the mechatronics, computer engineering, digital media technology and graphic communications have future projects in the works for the center, like designing informational kiosks.
The crowd went outside for a ribbon-cutting at the center, after which educators and students toured the area. Numerous people commented on the quality of the desks and chairs, built by students, which fit together like puzzle pieces to expand desk size.
Ligonier Valley senior and digital media student Beth Hayes, 18, helped take photographs to document the evolution of the center. She looks forward to seeing all aspects of it come together.
“I think it’s a great opportunity,” she said.
“It’s hands-on, which is basically what the EWCTC is all about — hands-on learning, and it’s an example of green energy which is definitely something that is growing more and more popular,” said Drew Neiderhiser, 16, who is a junior at Ligonier Valley and studies mechatronics.
Irvin Tantlinger, a Ligonier Valley school board member and member of the career and technology center’s joint operating committee, called it an “awesome facility.”
“I was a teacher here for 35 years so, to me, to see the classes all work together and build this, it’s phenomenal,” he said.
Fellow board member JoAnn Thistlethwaite echoed Tantlinger’s opinion of the center.
“It certainly is a look into the future,” she said.
Nicole Chynoweth is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-850-2862 or [email protected].